"Biodiversity in Waasland Logistics Park as an example to entrepreneurs"

Biodiversity is a hot topic of our times. But what does biodiversity mean and how can your business create a working environment that respects people, plants, and wildlife? You will find the answer in this detailed case about the achievements in Waasland Logistics Park. The Scheldt Left Bank Corporation (MLSO) and Natuurpunt developed a plan as part of the Green Deal for industrial parks.

This is not the first time MLSO and Natuurpunt have worked together. Natuurpunt, MLSO and Port of Antwerp have been pooling their efforts for some time now in the 'Antwerpse Haven Natuurlijker' project. We will explain more about the two collaborative projects below.

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Biodiversity, in a nutshell

Biodiversity comprises the variety of life on Earth. Encouraging biodiversity by providing space for spontaneous and organic development of flora and fauna has a positive impact on the climate. Applied at the level of industrial parks, it also creates a more pleasant working atmosphere, increases productivity, and improves mood, not to mention creating a pronounced sense of pride among workers.

The 'Antwerpse Haven Natuurlijker' project

Since 2001, the 'Antwerpse Haven Natuurlijker' (the port of Antwerp more natural) project has been encouraging biodiversity in and around the port area. "The species protection programme and network of ecological infrastructure are our main focal points," says Johan Baetens from Natuurpunt, the organisation widely known for management and protection of Flemish nature reserves and natural species. About 5% of all sites in the port area form part of this ecological infrastructure network.

We have a common goal: working towards a sustainable port area. From there, it was very easy to build bridges

Johan BaetensNatuurpunt

Species protection programme and ecological infrastructure network

A species protection programme is a set of measures, tips and guidelines geared towards improving conditions for one specific species. In the port, however, a species protection programme has been developed for no less than 90 protected species for which measures are being taken within an ecological infrastructure network. This network consists of road verges, pipeline zones and other unused spaces in the industrial landscape. Together, this infrastructure provides a link between the areas of natural habitat within the port area, but also beyond to larger nature reserves just outside the port area. "By protecting certain animal and plant species within this network of around 600 hectares, we ensure that businesses can still develop despite the protection obligations that apply everywhere (and therefore also on industrial parks). This serves to help both the businesses and the species covered by the species protection programme. This initiative also provides an opportunity to support companies in their biodiversity plans," explains Johan.

The Scheldt Left Bank Corporation is also committed to biodiversity projects on its industrial and logistics sites. "The shared channel for the drainage and infiltration of rainwater and the sustainable green management in Waasland Logistics Park are two specific examples of this," says Christa Schaut, a biologist and expert on the environment, energy and nature.

The port sector and the nature conservation organisations have managed to reconcile their points of view. "We have a common goal: working towards a sustainable port area. From there, it was very easy to build bridges," notes Johan Baetens from Natuurpunt. .

Eco-tunnel for the natterjack toad

The natterjack toad is one of the protected species included in the species protection programme. This amphibian, which enjoys protection across Europe, can be found in and around the port of Antwerp, but the species has little room to settle and reproduce. The solution is to provide habitat for these animals in various places. For example, a roundabout that simultaneously functions as a route to the surrounding businesses and as a habitat for the natterjack toad, as well as an eco-tunnel connecting that habitat with other parts of the port where the natterjack toad still lives. And it is working: the animal has been seen on the roundabout regularly every year since it was laid.

Biodiversity: well on track, but not quite there yet

The long-term vision is clear. Species within an ecological infrastructure network must continue to have protection. When permits are applied for, the authority ascertains whether protected species are present on a site and whether any measures still need to be taken for those species within the ecological infrastructure network. "The situation regarding protection of endangered species in the network is improving but...," Johan admits, "we're not quite there yet."

Waasland Logistics Park

At the exit of the E34 in Vrasene is Waasland Logistics Park industrial park, which is divided in two by the watercourse (North-South link). Waasland Logistics Park - phase West is closest to the exit. "On those sites, businesses can do their thing, but there are enough buffers to preserve green spaces," says Christa. "In the middle of the site, for example, is a green-blue 'finger', a central water infiltration system that, because of its size, can accommodate more flora and fauna, and has a greater ecological value than if each company provided it separately. Natuurpunt and the Scheldt Left Bank Corporation are currently also working together on a new layout for the buffers around Waasland Logistics Park - phase West. The aim is not only to increase biodiversity, but to also ensure that these green spaces provide added value for the many daily users."

On the one hand, the companies are involved in the design of the green spaces, while on the other hand, Natuurpunt provides MLSO with ongoing support so that the green expertise is always available. "There are quite a few benefits to establishing as a company in Waasland Logistics Park. The global approach of this site relieves the business owner of any burden, because it can call on a large-scale sustainable infrastructure and the expertise of MLSO and Natuurpunt," explains Christa.

Positive impact of working in green spaces

Studies have shown how beneficial it is to bring people into contact with nature. Working in grey 'bunkers' without any link to the environment will eventually lead to disconnection from the environment.

A green environment has economic and social benefits: after all, it has been proven that a green working environment results in fewer sick days, less stress and better mood among workers. A pleasant lunchtime walk with colleagues also promotes team spirit. This is a win-win situation, because happy employees are the basis of a productive company.

Creating green working zones is not so hard

We've all seen them: industrial areas 'neatly' laid with bricks and the token lawn area with a picnic table. "There is an alternative," says Christa. "Companies can work perfectly well within pleasant green areas where far more attention is paid to nature. A site like this captures rainwater and provides people with a pleasant environment while also accommodating animals and wild plants."

In Waasland Logistics Park, there is room for productivity, entrepreneurship, infiltration of rainwater, and the natural protection of plant and animal species. It is possible thanks to a thorough preliminary study, some space and because we can rely on the extensive knowledge of Natuurpunt, both in the area of nature conservation and when it comes to integration on industrial sites.

Queue for companies in Waasland Logistics Park

Not just anyone can establish premises in Waasland Logistics Park. Sustainability is an important criterion in the selection of candidates. At the time of the last survey, there were two applicants for every available plot. Making well-considered choices is essential in this case, and it is logical that the shared sustainability factor of an application carries weight in the assessment.

Waasland Logistics Park has recently introduced a business park management system in which all the companies on the site participate. They meet regularly to see what they can still achieve as a collective for the environment. For example, the agenda includes initiatives concerning waste, but also the layout of the green buffers around the western part of Waasland Logistics Park - phase West.

In summary, what are the benefits?

  • Working around biodiversity provides a more pleasant working environment.
  • Your company becomes more attractive to young workers, who are increasingly paying attention to ensuring a sustainable future.
  • The maintenance for a green working area is a lot cheaper in the long run compared to a paved area.
  • A business card promoting sustainability inspires other companies to also play their part.
  • The surrounding area also benefits from attractive industrial sites, especially if they are located near a residential area.

Green Deal for firms

The Flemish Government has set up a Green Deal system as part of which groups of firms and organisations can work in partnership around a common goal. This could concern any number of things, such as saving water or circular purchasing.

"When the Green Deal 'Businesses and Biodiversity' was announced, this prompted us to look further," adds Christa. "What else can we do? For example, can we upgrade the buffers of the Logistics Park, which had already been laid? We are only at the beginning. I am curious to see how the site will evolve when nature has been given time to settle after our interventions. That's obviously going to give us a lot of satisfaction."

MLSO and Natuurpunt hope, of course, that their example will inspire others to make more space for nature too!